It seems we’re always trying to make sense of all the conflicting advice we hear about dealing with our emotions. We’re told to honor our feelings—to own them. Further, we can expect others to validate those feelings. When they don’t, it’s sometimes considered a serious transgression, such as abuse.
The term assertiveness has come into play in recent history, as well. We’re counseled to be assertive whenever we communicate what we want. Assertiveness is generally acknowledged to be a better tactic than aggressiveness in responding to rude behavior, poor service, bullying, even abuse or neglect. But the circumstances are often open to question, because they involve more than one point of view. Others with different perspectives may see us as selfish or self-righteous in demanding we get our way—whether we use polite or harsh means.
The issue of political correctness hovers at the top of the list of acceptable behaviors we must observe to avoid offending others. Today, especially in our litigious culture, almost anything we say could cause costly offense.
Emotions are complex, and often tough to analyze. What might cause great offense or emotional pain to one person doesn’t even show on the radar for another. Besides, life comes at us fast. Many of us struggle to say afloat, and don’t have the luxury to examine all the feelings we experience in an hour—not to mention on a daily basis.
In solving this conundrum, it helps to approach life with calmness and acceptance despite all the offenses—many of them petty—that we continually endure. Composure is effective and energy-saving. We simply don’t have the time or the strength to fight every potential conflict that’s thrown our way. On the other hand, when we’re constantly trying to defend our rightful positions, we end up emotionally exhausted and depleted of our power to move forward.
The 13th – century Persian poet and philosopher Rumi posed this shrewd question: “If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?” Its answer is implied. Every time we stop to address a small offense to our sensibilities, we are interrupting our own advancement as self-contained and gracious human beings.
Especially as women, we ‘ve developed a keen awareness of the words and actions of those in our sphere of influence. It’s part of our instincts to protect the honor and safety of our loved ones—often even before our own. But it’s not in our best interests to react to every single breach of our standards when it slows our progress in achieving results for the higher good. This doesn’t mean we need to be doormats. Often, just the right look or even a moment of silence can be most efficient in warding off ill-intentioned remarks or acts.
If someone or something is repeatedly threatening our dignity or wellbeing, we can avert our knee-jerk reaction by postponing a discussion to a more appropriate time, when the parties involved are more rational and calm than in the heat of battle.
In maneuvering through this quagmire we call life, try to think of yourself as an Olympic skater sliding through potential hazards in order to complete a near-flawless performance, rather than a distraught single mom driving a car that’s stuck in traffic and honking in futility because you can’t move. That’s just one scenario. I’m sure you can think of more.
Our poise and capacity for understanding in difficult situations will earn us more respect and even admiration than exposing a defensive attitude every time our patience is challenged. Beyond this, the consistent practice of presenting an upbeat and unflappable presence will help lead us to our priceless peace of mind!
Mary Kathryn “M.K.” Jones